Oxycodone Symptoms and Warning Signs

Painkillers containing oxycodone, such as OxyContin, have severe side effects and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

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Signs of Oxycodone Abuse

Taking oxycodone

Oxycodone is the main ingredient in many commonly abused brand name painkillers, such as OxyContin and Percocet. Its powerful pain relief properties make it an easy target for abuse and addiction.

Oxycodone abuse can be hard to recognize if you don’t know what to look for. Since many who abuse oxycodone simply swallow a pill without the use of any paraphernalia, it’s easy for someone to conceal their abuse.

Knowing the signs of oxycodone abuse can help you take notice when someone you love is slipping into addiction. Some common signs of oxycodone use include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Apathy
  • Drowsiness
  • Short attention span
  • Sense of calmness
  • Sedation

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The Dangers of Oxycodone

Although oxycodone brings relief for many people suffering from traumatic pain, the dangers of the drug are becoming more clear than ever. Due to the euphoric effects of oxycodone, many people abuse the drug despite the risks. Those who begin abusing oxycodone on a regular basis are likely to develop a dependence on and/or an addiction to the drug. Oxycodone is extremely addictive because it is derived from opiates, making it similar to morphine and heroin.

The greatest danger of oxycodone is a potentially fatal overdose. Oxycodone depresses a person’s respiration and decreases their blood pressure. This can lead to seizures, comas or cardiac arrest (especially when ingesting, snorting, or injecting crushed tablets).

When oxycodone is taken with alcohol or any other depressant drug, the risk of fatal overdose is greatly increased.

Oxycodone is most dangerous and addictive when taken via methods that increase the drug’s euphoric effects, such as crushing pills and then snorting or injecting the powder or combining the pills with alcohol or other drugs.

Since the 1990s, the number of prescriptions for opioid drugs more than doubled. This rise was markedly escalated in 1996, when OxyContin, a common brand formulation of oxycodone, was first introduced. The United States is the biggest global consumer of oxycodone, accounting for up to 81 percent of the world’s oxycodone supply.

Tragically, the rise in oxycodone use and availability has caused an increase in fatal overdoses. According to Dr. Nora Volkow in a testimony to Congress, prescriptions opioids were responsible for more deaths than either cocaine or heroin by 2002.

In response to the growing abuse of opioids generally, and oxycodone in particular, many oxycodone products are now designed with abuse deterrent mechanisms, such as invariable ingredients that will make you sick if you take too much. Many extended release versions now have film coatings or beads that make injecting or snorting the drug either very hard, almost impossible, or at least less desirable and feasible.

Immediate Side Effects of Oxycodone Abuse

The immediate side effects of oxycodone abuse range from mildly uncomfortable to potentially deadly. Even someone who only uses oxycodone as prescribed may experience side effects, including:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Depressed breathing rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Vivid dreams
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Euphoria
  • Extreme relaxation
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Pain relief
  • Sedation
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Mood changes

Long-term Side Effects of Oxycodone Abuse

Someone who has used oxycodone for a long period of time may experience complications with their physical and mental health as a result of their drug use.

  • Heart failure
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Aches and cramps
  • Increased pressure of spinal fluid
  • Coma
  • Swelling in limbs
  • Death

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Recognizing an Oxycodone Addiction

Even when people start using oxycodone painkillers by prescription, continued use can lead to abuse. Those abusing oxycodone can develop a tolerance to it, leading to more abuse and eventual addiction as time goes on. It is important to recognize when you or someone you care about is struggling with an oxycodone addiction.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are 11 criteria for diagnosing an oxycodone addiction. The more symptoms that are present, the more severe the problem. Here are the criteria.

  • Hazardous use: You’ve used oxycodone in ways that are dangerous to yourself and/or others
  • Social or interpersonal problems: Your oxycodone use has caused relationship problems or conflicts with others
  • Neglected major roles: You’ve failed to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Withdrawal: You experience withdrawal symptoms when you reduce or eliminate use
  • Tolerance: You need to use more oxycodone to get the same effect
  • Larger amounts for longer: You use increasing amounts of oxycodone for increasing periods of time
  • Repeated attempts to control use: You’ve tried to cut back or quit entirely but haven’t been successful
  • Much time spent using: You spend a great deal of your time using oxycodone
  • Physical or psychological problems: Your oxycodone use has caused physical or mental health problems
  • Giving up activities: You’ve skipped or quit activities you once enjoyed to use oxycodone
  • Craving: You’ve experienced cravings for oxycodone

In order to be diagnosed with an oxycodone use disorder, you must meet two or of these criteria within a 12-month period. If you meet two or three of the criteria, you have a mild oxycodone use disorder. Four to five is considered moderate, and six or more is considered severe.

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Intervention and Next Steps

The risks and consequences of oxycodone addiction are undeniably deadly. Staging an intervention for someone struggling through an addiction is the first step toward potentially saving their life. If you are worried about how your loved one will react to an intervention, it is recommended to hire an intervention specialist.

Withdrawal and Treatment

Like other opiates, oxycodone has significant withdrawal symptoms when detoxing without medical supervision. Most professionals agree that while oxycodone withdrawal is uncomfortable, it is rarely life-threatening.

In the event of complications, such as chemical imbalances or vomiting and diarrhea that can cause severe dehydration, withdrawal can turn dangerous. In most cases, it is recommended to use a medically-supervised detox option.

The best way to get through withdrawal from oxycodone and reduce the chances of relapse is with therapy, support groups and medication. Therapy and support groups help people suffering from oxycodone addiction overcome the psychological compulsion to use while medications can reduce the discomfort that comes with withdrawal. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) with the use of medications such as buprenorphine, subutex, and naltrexone, can not only reduce withdrawal symptoms, but can also be beneficial after the completion of detox to reduce cravings and sustain long-term recovery.

An inpatient rehabilitation center is often the best place to receive all of these treatments in an environment conducive to a successful recovery. However, there are various outpatient options as well. Reach out to a treatment provider today to explore your treatment options.

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